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Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell review

The Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell will let you know who’s knocking before you answer (or even when you’re not at home) without running any cables.

Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell
(Image: © Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

Our Verdict

The Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell is a great way to add some security to your home without adding more wires; the HDR camera’s useful 1:1 shape camera isn’t cropped 16:9 but affords a real view of visitors, right to their feet, and (with the subscription motion detection) means any packages left at your door will be well looked after. Good interoperability will hopefully one day embrace HomeKit too.

For

  • Square picture lets you see packages
  • Doorbell call relatively fast
  • Night Vision
  • No hub required
  • High-res HDR video
  • Alexa, Assistant & IFTTT compatibility

Against

  • Battery doesn’t seem to last 3 months
  • Subscription needed to enable most features
  • Does not work with Apple HomeKit
  • Expensive
  • Doesn’t offer pre-roll video

Though they weren’t the first into the smart doorbell camera market, this is already Arlo’s third; their first was a traditional button device which made it relatively low on features for a lot of the smart home community, while their second brought with it a square-framed camera offering perhaps the greatest viewing angle in the market. By adding battery-only operation as an option, the Arlo Essential Video Doorbell Wire-free makes it possible to install the doorbell without running cables, then just topping up the rechargeable battery every 3-6 months (according to Arlo). If they’re available to you (or you choose to fit them) you can also fit standard 8-24V power and the bell will keep itself charged from the mains and ring your pre-existing chimes.

For many who share the more modern solution – a battery powered button and chime box plugged into a spare power socket – Arlo also offer a similar solution (or at least will by the end of July); a wireless chime which can be plugged into a convenient socket. Some will note that the chime, a separate upgrade, costs more than most wireless doorbells but that’s not so much Arlo’s issue as the price gulf between smart doorbells and their traditional counterparts. If you’ve already decided you want the power of a smart doorbell which possesses a camera, then the question is more what features you’ll be getting with your investment, and that’s where Arlo seem to have considered the user very well.

Arlo Essential Doorbell: Specifications

HDR: Yes

Video: 1536 x 1536

Viewing Angle: 180˚ diagonal

Battery: 3-6 Months

Recharge: Remove and USB

Connection: Wi-Fi

Dimensions: 47 x 143 x 37 mm

Weight: 249g (with battery)

Operating Temp: -20 – 45˚C

Arlo Essential Doorbell: Key features

When setting up the doorbell, the app guides you through the process very nicely and the included key won’t be needed to remove the back again until comes time to change the battery. (Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

The Arlo doorbell is designed to be connected to an existing system, or installed as a new doorbell, and can provide full calls with 2-way audio (and one way video) or take messages like an answer phone. Visitors are detected by the motion sensor, which illuminates a ring of LEDs around the button so there’s no chance of them overlooking it. Once they press your phone rings and you can answer them like any other call (voice) or as an Arlo video call.

The doorbell is supplied with three months of AI, beyond which it becomes a subscription service. This can detect packages left on the ground by the door as well as ignoring non-humans in your defined areas and people beyond your land altogether, meaning testing in my small pathway was no problem. 

Arlo Essential Doorbell: Build & Handling

The battery, bell, back cover, and angle mount in order (from left to right) (Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

The Arlo looks a lot like its earlier cousin (which insists on direct current), a very pleasing shape for a doorbell. It certainly seems to be a perception Nest share; the Hello Smart Wi-Fi doorbell looks very, very similar (white rim, black face, circular button at the bottom, camera lens at the top). Ring, the Amazon brand, have adopted assorted looks, all rather more like bloated traditional doorbells. Of the three, the Arlo and Nest are both comfortable winners for me, but you can form your own views from the manufacturer’s photography. 

Looking at your new doorbell is one thing – installation is also a vital stage. In this area Arlo have done well, providing a thorough description of the steps in the app and an optional angle bracket. My only disappointment was the need to wait overnight to charge the battery before first use, after which it dropped in and setup was little harder wafting a QR code on the phone screen in front of the doorbell. Connecting to an existing circuit might prove more rational in the long run – you get a traditional chime and reliable power – but I had neither.

Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell

Despite a slightly uneven brick, the screws and plugs provided held the support onto the wall with ease and can be quickly removed to place the angling bracket on if preferred. (Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

Once installed, things passed into the software’s realm. You do not need an Arlo base unit; the Essential doorbell connects directly to your Wi-Fi. Assuming that’s all good, this connection becomes the means you find out if you have visitors, and tweak doorbell settings. The Arlo has a generous range of settings, plus compatibility with Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, IFTTT and Samsung SmartThings – a noticeable gap here is Apple HomeKit, which will only work when wired and with the base station for reasons not fully explained. 

Arlo Essential Doorbell: Performance

The Arlo’s video quality is noticeably better than many other security cameras and the 1:1 image frame makes more difference than I’d anticipated; it really is possible to see the doormat (the package-leaving space, if you like). Set at maximum 1536 x 1536 the resolution is so sharp I can see the bricks in my path and HDR so good the details in the clouds too. Even 1080 and 720 modes are OK.

The automatic person detection and alerts are reasonably prompt in its response and appear on my Apple Watch as well as my phone. The menu includes sensitivity adjustment if the leaves are blowing too strongly or people are being missed (it was at 80% by default).

If you see misbehaviour through the camera, you have the option of switching on (and off again) a surprisingly loud siren to discourage vandals. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t seem to be able to trigger this by trying to vandalise the device, but perhaps I’m not aggressive enough. 

Depending on how you set up your detection, it’s possible you’ll get alerts (iOS or Android) before the button is pressed, but when it is activated it acts like a speakerphone making a voice call to your chosen (and any added) handsets. If you’ve installed the Arlo app, you can choose to switch to the video call but I did find that once or twice a call seemed to be misplaced at this point. At the visitors end the speaker is loud and effective; in the app it is important to check it is muted or not – auto mute isn’t a bad idea, but is only subtly labelled.

Arlo Essential Wire-free Video Doorbell

While the alerts clearly get through from the app, the rest of the Arlo app has stalled here, not for the only time, though the voice call carried on. If this happens, you need to get to your visitor but don’t forget to check the call is over.   (Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

My first visitor to try the Arlo unprompted was a courier who was already engaged in a hunt for alternative means of attracting my attention by the end of the five seconds that it took for the bell’s call to get through to my phone. Sure, he wasn’t the most patient of people, but the latency isn’t ideal; it feels noticeably slower than the alerts from my Nest Indoor, for example. On the other hand, in general I am going to feel more freedom leaving the home alone on days I can safely tell couriers to leave the thing or where to try, and it’ll be nice having a clip nearly immediately available to show if they did as requested.

The screens from the Arlo app (in dark mode on iOS) show, from left to right, the Activity Zones, Playback of a clip, the list of clips (the second down is bad data for some reason) and a night mode live view). (Image credit: Adam Juniper/Digital Camera World)

After some messing around, and despite highly discouraging comments on the support forums, I found I was able to set up an old Alexa Echo to act as a chime. There is a little latency there too, but the delay, around 3 seconds, is only from button press to chime, so if you’re home there is no delay with your phone. An alternative approach is to part with roughly the price of a small smart speaker for an Arlo Chime 2 when it comes out in July. In either case, the Arlo is well equipped with options for flexibility but the less complicated the access to power or a chime, the better! 

Arlo Essential Doorbell: Verdict

The Arlo doorbell looks great and can be installed with or without wiring; of the smart video doorbells on offer – assuming you’re happy with the terms of the subscription – then it’s an appealing choice. For many these devices as a category are still slightly surreal; it’s very hard, as a visitor, to wait an extra few moments after pressing before even your potential host knows you’re there. To combat this, in the long run, you’ll likely find yourself looking to install wiring and a chime which will, at a stroke, give you all the sound and instantaneousness of a traditional bell plus the extra features. A good half-way house is to fork out for a spare battery and charge alternately, meaning at least you’ll have no ‘off days’. In any case, the Arlo gives you the option of experimenting with all these possibilities, as well as handling the job itself.

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Adam Juniper

Adam is Digital Camera World's resident drone expert. He is the author of a number of books including The Complete Guide to Drones, The Smart Smart Home Handbook, 101 Tips for DSLR Video, and The Drone Pilot's Handbook.